Autism Speaks comment submitted encouraging the Department of Labor to provide paid sick leave for family caregivers impacted by COVID-19

March 30, 2020

The following regulatory comment was submitted by Autism Speaks on March 29, 2020.

Autism Speaks strongly urges the Department to provide clarification that family caregivers who need to take time off from work to provide care for adults with disabilities and older adults, because of care provider closure or unavailability of direct care workers due to COVID-19, are eligible for emergency paid sick leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).  In the same way that families are grappling with the loss of access to childcare and school-based services, there are many adults in the autism community with significant intellectual disabilities and other challenging health conditions that rely on daily services that are no longer available and, in most of these circumstances, this requires family members to provide that care.  The FFCRA not only allows paid sick leave to be provided for caregivers who must take time to care for children because of school or child care provider closures (amongst other defined circumstances) but it also gives the Secretary of Health and Human Services, in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury and Secretary of the Department of Labor, the ability to further specify any other applicable “employee [who] is experiencing any other substantially similar condition.”

We ask that those Departments use the explicit flexibility granted by the FFCRA to ensure it’s clear that caregivers of adults with disabilities are provided with paid sick leave in those circumstances, and that any communications about the policy explicitly reflect that those individuals are eligible.  For adults on the autism spectrum with significant intellectual disability, debilitating co-morbid health conditions, and self-injurious behavior, the care they are provided on a daily basis is essential.  Without access to these services, family caregivers are doing their best to provide that care, and we look forward to the Department (working with the other relevant Departments) clarifying that those caregivers are to be afforded the same paid sick leave rights as the law clearly allows. 

In addition to the policy related to paid sick leave, we urge the Department to use any regulatory flexibility it has to ensure that the paid Family Medical Leave Act provisions in the FFCRA are also applicable to the caregivers of adults with disabilities who are not able to access their care provider facilities or direct care workers. 

Thank you for your consideration.

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